This article is part of a ParaSport News series of articles looking at doping in the Paralympic, Deaflympic and disability sports movement.
When people talk about combating doping in sport, transparency is the weapon of choice. Sportspeople need access to information about what is allowed and what is not allowed. Sanctions play a role because they serve as lessons for sportspeople of the consequences for doping. Transparency matters because information empowers decision makers in developing plans to fight doping. Transparency matters to fans, sponsors and the media because sport often hinges on the assumption that everyone is playing fairly. Cheating is perceived by the public as undermining the integrity of sport.
In ParaSport News review of doping sanctions in Paralympic sport, privacy issues often appeared to clash with transparency when it comes to national anti-doping agencies reporting doping sanctions. World Anti-Doping Code (WADA) requires that all Anti-Doping Rule Violations (ADRVs) be published. Many national doping agencies do not publish this information, and/or publish limited data that omits important details like names, types of drugs sanctioned for, when the doping offense took place, the context of the doping control event, and even the sport which the offense took place for. Privacy over shared medical information is often cited in rules and policies regarding anti-doping transparency.
There is a struggle in making all sport, and specifically Paralympic sport, fair because secrecy allows cheating to flourish. At the same time, sportspeople are entitled to privacy. The world does not necessarily need to know their medical history, which illness they have had, what their existing medical conditions are and what completely legal drugs they took that might have resulted in getting a sanction.
There are a number of examples of national anti-doping agencies opting to prioritize privacy over what may be their obligations as WADA signatories. Once example is Cyprus. The country passed a law in 2011 that means disclosure of sportspeople’s names and their offenses will only be made public based on WADA regulations and national laws. Officer of the Office of the Commissioner for Personal Data Protection Marios Papachristodoulou said at a conference at that time about this, “the Commissioner confirms once again that the position is that the law the protection of personal data cannot be the refuge / cover those who break the law.” This position in Cyprus was reiterated once again in a press release in October 2012 by the Cyprus Anti-Doping Authority (Κυπριακή Αρχή Αντί-Ντόπινγκ) that they are trying to achieve that balance between public disclosure and not sharing private information.
Jamaica’s “The Anti-Doping in Sport Act, 2014” is another example of legislation which broadly prohibits publishing any personally identifying information. Japan Anti-Doping Agency has internal administrative procedures which generally seek to insure privacy, including assigning sportspeople numbers and referring to these individuals in documents by referencing these numbers instead of their names. Their policies also call for names to be removed from public documents after a sportsperson’s sanction has been completed.
Other countries have similar policies, either enshrined in law or written into regulatory practices by the national anti-doping agency that prevent doping violators being named, or providing information in such a way that the sportsperson could easily be identified. This includes not releasing some records, or releasing heavily redacted materials, such is the case with a Spanish disability sportsperson where the published tribunal proceedings by Agencia Española de Protección de la Salud en el Deporte removed names, health conditions, sports, sport governing bodies and where competitions took place in order to provide privacy. This report was also not made available on the Spanish anti-doping agency’s website but was only available on Anti-Doping Authority Netherlands’s website. That website was created with support of the Dutch government with the goal of providing as much information as possible about efforts to fight doping around the globe.
The battle against doping and understanding how big a problem it is will continue. Laws and policies on transparency battle with the need for privacy. Some countries have already decided which way they are going, setting the stage to pit them against WADA and other anti-doping efforts in the future.